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Was pinch hitting for Alcides Escobar the right call?


In the last inning of last night’s Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays game, the Royals were down by two runs with the bottom of their order due to bat. Every team’s last three batters are the most woeful on the team, but the Royals last three are worse than average. Chris Getz, Brayan Pena and Alcides Escobar currently have on-base percentages of .318, .295 and .241. So, the odds of overcoming the two run deficit were looking slim.

Predictably, Chris Getz grounded out to second base for the first out. However, Brayan Pena stroked a ball to center field for a single which put the tying run at the plate. A tying run which was represented by Alcides Escobar and his .210 batting average and matching .242 on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He isn’t just the worst batter on the Royals, he’s likely the worst option in the Majors to bat in that situation..

A logical strategy in that moment would have been to utilize the well-known Rule 3.03:

A player, or players, may be substituted during a game at any time the ball is dead. A substitute player shall bat in the replaced player’s position in the team’s batting order

However manager Ned Yost decided to waive his right to use Rule 3.03 and left significantly better hitters Mike Aviles and Mitch Maier on the bench.

Escobar watched the first pitch go by for a called strike and fouled off the next two offerings attempting to go to the opposite field. The fourth and final pitch of the at-bat was a called strike that looked to be outside, but seemed to be a good pitch to hit the other way. The strikeout was followed by an RBI double by Alex Gordon and a just-too-short bloop by Melky Cabrera to end the game.

When asked after the game if he thought about pinch hitting for Escobar Ned Yost replied:

"Do I think about pinch-hitting for him every time in those situations? Yes, yes, I’m dying to. But I know it’s in our best interest right now, that we don’t do it -- for big picture thought."

But thinking about it and doing it are clearly two different things. He also said:

“Not right now, I’m not gonna do it. I don’t care what anybody says, I’m not gonna do it.”

“This is a kid that I think is going hit some day and I want him getting as many at bats as he can get, because one day there’s going to be in line to win a championship and I want him to be able to handle himself in those situations.”

Leaving Alcides Escobar in to hit in that important game situation wasn’t a matter of inept managing; it was a development philosophy. It’s easy to scream at the manager for making a bone-headed decision, and in the context of last night’s game, that’s exactly what it was.

This decision goes deeper than that, what’s better for the Royals as a franchise: a 15% increase in the probability of getting the tying run on base in a relatively meaningless game in June, or trying to improve a player who is going to be a contributor for the next five years?

The answer depends on who are. If you are fan who goes to a couple games a year and last night was one of them, then you want to see that walk-off win – screw the development of Alcides Escobar. It’s just one at-bat! If you are building a franchise and you feel that Alcides Escobar is an important component, then things look a bit different. That slight increase in probability for a single game becomes much less important.

Context matters, sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war. It’s not a guarantee that Escobar will eventually turn around his offensive game. Leaving him out to fail in clutch situations could eventually crush his confidence. It’s all a calculated risk.

I believe it's a risk worth taking. What does the Royals franchise gain in the long haul from giving Mike Aviles or Mitch Maier that chance last night? At best, they win one game -- a game that will be forgotten in a week's time. Neither of those players are going to be on the Royals when they are in the playoffs, while Alcides Escobar just might. Developing him at the cost of a small win probability increase is the right call.

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Nick Scott is a contributor to Royals Authority and is the host of the Broken Bat Single Royals podcast, you can follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


kcgregory 7 years ago

I usually find myself agreeing with you, but in this case I couldn't disagree more.

If your favorite team isn't playing to win with the pieces they have then what's the point?

I get the long-term view, but not to a fault like this. Escobar should play every day, yes, but he that doesn't mean he has to get EVERY at-bat in the game. If getting pinch hit for in the ninth inning of a game (when he is the WORST hitter in baseball) crushes his confidence then he will never have the confidence necessary to suceed long term.

Here's another newsflash: if Alcides DOES eventually hit, it's not likely that he'll hit enough that we wouldn't pinch hit for him in that situation anyway. Our bench is weak at this point (though every hitter is an upgrade over him), but in theory if we're in contention then we'll have a player on our bench better than him even if he reaches his most optimistic ceiling as a hitter.

Running Escobar out there for 8th and 9th inning at-bats while losing a close game is no different than playing Mike Jacobs, Jose Guillen, or Willie Bloomquist as regulars. You're either trying to win or you're not. At some point Dayton needs to start caring about the product Kansas City fans are watching IN Kansas City.

Sorry for the rant, but I can not stand any argument that says we shouldn't be trying to win games at the major league level.

kcgregory 7 years ago

Maybe it's not fair to pin it on Dayton as Yost clearly has a history of sticking with guys. I got a little carried away, but the point remains--play to win with what you have or don't expect me to watch every game like I have been until you care.

Shane Garrett 7 years ago

Wait until after the all-star game. That is when divisions are won or lost. It used to be Texas would take that late summer dive. Now who knows.

Nick Scott 7 years ago

the difference between jacobs, guillen and bloomquist is that Escobar IS a part of the future. Those guys never were.

I really don't care if the royals win a meaningless game against the blue jays in 2011. This team isn't a contender. Winning today at the expense of the future is a short-sighted approach.

I don't think that pinch hitting for escobar will crush his confidence.

kcgregory 7 years ago

I don't think it will crush his confidence either, but isn't part of the defense Yost has been using? Possibly that's just the narrative created by writers who are just as baffled as me about continuing to run him out there in those situations.

Also, my argument is not 'win now at the expense of the future'. My argument is 'win now if it's NOT at the expense of the future'. I do not for a moment believe that pinch hitting for Escobar once a week hurts his development (would you argue that it does?), thus we could do that and try to win today.

None of these games are meaningless to me so I reject that portion of your argument as well.

Nick Scott 7 years ago

"but isn't part of the defense Yost has been using?"

Not that I've heard.

"None of these games are meaningless to me so I reject that portion of your argument as well."

I understand that. That's why I brought up context. To you, winning yesterday was very important. That extra 10-15% chance of aviles or maier getting on base was important for you.

Ned Yost, and I pretty much agree with him, believes the long teram goals are best served by taking the chance on Escobar in the situation and giving him opportunities to try and hit in pressure situations. His 2nd to last at bat was really good, he crushed a ball that happened to go right to the CF.

If we could be guaranteed that PH for escobar would have won the game, then I'd do it. But it's only a slight probability shift, not a promise of success.

kcgregory 7 years ago

I wouldn't classify it as 'very important' to me, but if you're not sacrificing the future then why not? I guess that's the disagreement--I don't think missing out on 2-3 ABs per month (at best--how many one run games has he come to the plate in the late innings?) is detrimental to his development.

I still don't think a fully developed Escobar will likely to be asked to hit in those situations either, but I realize that's utter speculation.

Also, Yost has backed himself into a corner he can't get out of now so I will have to get used to seeing Escobar in those situations. It's not changing this year (at least).

Nick Scott 7 years ago

Yost said last night that in the future he wants escobar's defense on the field late in games, so he won't pinch hit for him in the future. So if he isn't going to PH for him in the future (which is debateable itself) then why PH for him in a meaningless game right now.

I see both sides, but I like the idea of putting a guy in those situations.

kcgregory 7 years ago

We're talking about the ninth inning of a game where there will be no tenth inning for a glove to impact without plating a run. Surely you agree that in 'the future', with development of a player not an issue, the worst hitter in the league should be hit for in that situation even if he has the best glove in league? I'll listen the development arguments (and disagree with them), but Yost says some outrageous things and this is another one.

Royals 7 years ago

"Winning today at the expense of the future is a short-sighted approach."

Then why is Bill Butler almost always pinch ran for with the game on the line?

Nick Scott 7 years ago

"We're talking about the ninth inning of a game where there will be no tenth inning for a glove to impact without plating a run."

No "no" but "unlikely". A tie game goes to the 10th. But I understand.

"Surely you agree that in 'the future', with development of a player not an issue, the worst hitter in the league should be hit for in that situation even if he has the best glove in league?"

I do. But I think and I know ned thinks that Escobar won't be the worst hitter in the future and he believes (rightly or wrongly) that these opportunities will help him become a better hitter.

"Then why is Bill Butler almost always pinch ran for with the game on the line?"

Because Butler is NOT developing into a decent runner in the future. Pinch running for him has no long term effects. I'm not saying I always agree with the pinch running for him, in fact I typically disagree.

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